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The task below is extracted from an English training book:

Nick: We can make some sandwiches for lunch.
Helen: Good idea. Have we got ___ nice bread?
a) any
b) some
c) a

Provided answer: a and b

Could someone please explain this for me as I believe that "some" normally doesn't work in this type of question?

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  • In American English, we don't say have got — just have: Do we have ___ nice bread? (Also, a, b, and c all work.) Dec 3, 2022 at 15:43
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    Google Ngram shows that do you have some is an American innovation that is only very recently making its way to the U.K. (And it's still much less common than do you have any in both countries.) Dec 3, 2022 at 16:18
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    @TinfoilHat Oh yes we do. Often, even usually for some folks. As for some and any, Colin has it. Some people might look for (and find in their minds) some distinction and then use it, but there's no rule. It's just that some is perfectly OK almost anywhere while any is restricted, but questions are a negative environment. You might get some use out of Robin Lakoff's paper "Some Reasons Why There Can't Be Any Some-Any Rule". Dec 3, 2022 at 16:20
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    "Have you got a nice bread?" is causing my acceptability chip to vibrate. Perhaps when I'm in the breakfast goods / bakery section of a supermarket, but quite strange in a domestic setting. Dec 3, 2022 at 16:38
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    @TinfoilHat That is simply not true. I say Have you got x all the time and I am a dyed-in-the-wool American English speaker. If you use any, you are anticipating the answer might be no.
    – Lambie
    Dec 3, 2022 at 18:30

2 Answers 2

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When asking a neutral question, we use "any". But if we are anticipating the answer "yes", we can use "some". Here's some examples.

At a restaurant, the server will normally first ask, "Can I get you something to drink?" The server expects everyone will want something to drink, even if it's just water, so they say "something". But at the end of the meal, the server might ask, "Can I get you anything for dessert?" People don't always get dessert, so the server isn't expecting the answer "yes" and uses "anything".

You enter your hotel room, and you can hear the shower is running in the bathroom. You knock on the door and ask, "Is someone in there?" because you think there is. But an hour later, the shower is still running and nobody has come out. Now you're not sure, so you knock again, and ask, "Is anyone in there?"

So in your example question, both "any" and "some" are correct. With "any" it's a neutral question about whether they have nice bread. With "some" it implies the speaker thinks they do have some nice bread.

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You're right that any is the negative polarity counterpart of some, and so would not normally be used in questions.

Nevertheless it is often used in questions. Thinking about it, I think it is used when there is an implied request connected with the item.

So

Have you got some bread? (BrE version because that's what I speak)

is asking not just whether the person has got some, but requesting some. You could use Have you got any bread? in that context as well, but in a context without request, it would sound odd:

He told me to bring some paper with me tomorrow. Well, have you got any/*some paper?

There, any is normal, and some is less likely.

Other examples:

Well, I'll just wait till you're ready. OK, have you got something to do?

"Anything" would be possible, but "something" is hoping for the answer "yes", and suggesting you do it while you're waiting.

So in the original question, there is an implied suggestion that we will use the nice bread to make the sandwiches.

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  • “Have you got some bread?” also sounds like good AmE to me.
    – Davislor
    Dec 3, 2022 at 23:06
  • @Davislor, that parenthesised remark was in response to Tinfoil hat's comment on the question: "In American English, we don't say have got — just have: Do we have ___ nice bread?"
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 4, 2022 at 0:40
  • informally, I might say, “Got any bread?” Both “Have you got ...?” and “Do you have ...?” sound fine to me. I might in some contexts say something like, “Have you ever gotten dumped?” (where have gotten is perfect tense, but got is possession with have as an interrogative), which I don’t think is allowed in BrE.
    – Davislor
    Dec 4, 2022 at 0:48
  • Thanks, though, for clarifying who you were quoting.
    – Davislor
    Dec 4, 2022 at 0:54

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